A project to improve industrial infrastructure in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will be led by the construction of an extended high-speed railway.
Wang Jingting, a native of Tangshan in Hebei province, lives and works in Beijing. On weekends and holidays, she either drives or takes a train back to Tangshan to relax or attend family functions.
The 27-year-old sales assistant rents an apartment in Beijing, but soaring property prices mean she's unlikely to ever be in a position to afford a home of her own in the capital. However, she can't live in Tangshan and continue to work in Beijing, because the round-trip would take about five hours.
Wang's dilemma may be solved by construction of an intercity rail line that will connect Beijing and Tangshan. Work will begin at the end of the year, and when the link opens in 2020 the journey will be reduced to just 30 minutes, one-fifth of the current two and a half hours. The drastic reduction in commuting time would offer Wang the option of moving back to Tangshan, buying an apartment and traveling into Beijing every day.
The railway is part of an ambitious plan to integrate the transportation system in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster, boost local economies and upgrade the industrial infrastructure. In the next 35 years, 615 billion yuan ($97 billion) will be spent to build 23 intercity railways that will connect Beijing with neighboring areas in the cluster, cutting travel times for passengers and freight cargos.
Wang, one of the 110 million people who will have access to more-convenient transportation, was delighted at the news. "The integration plan won't have much impact on my life for a while, but when the line is completed, travel will become much easier. The journey will only take 30 minutes, so I will be able to buy an apartment at home and take the train to work in Beijing," she said.
In April, China's most powerful decision-making body, the CPC Politburo Standing Committee, approved an integration and development plan for the cluster, and established specific roles for the three provincial-level administrations. The process will be led by the upgrading of transportation systems.
In September, the Ministry of Transport submitted guidelines to the central government for an integrated transportation system in the region that emphasized the importance of intercity railways. The blueprint for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei intercity railway was formulated by the China No 3 Railway Survey and Design Group, a State-owned contractor in Tianjin.
Beijing is surrounded by cities and counties in Hebei, while Tianjin, one of the largest container ports in the world, lies just 117 km to the east. Heavy industrial activity in Hebei, such as the production of iron and steel, has resulted in heavy emissions of airborne pollutants and caused a serious smog problem across the cluster. The new plan aims to integrate the three provincial-level areas to create a more-balanced industrial structure, reduce pollution and raise efficiency.
According to the plan, 23 intercity lines, running a combined 3,452 km, will be built within the cluster by 2050. Eight lines, including the Beijing-Tangshan line, will be completed by 2020 and will boast a combined length of 1,012 km. The following decade will see a further 10 lines, totaling 1,817 km, opened, and from 2030 to 2050, another five lines, with 623 km of track, will be opened within the cluster.
Four North-South lines and four East-West lines will connect Beijing, Tianjin and Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, with smaller cities in the area.
When the project is completed, it will be much easier for residents of Beijing and Tianjin to travel to Tangshan, Qinhuangdao, Zhangjiakou, Chengde, Cangzhou, Hengshui and Handan in Hebei. More exchanges will occur between the authorities in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei to overhaul the current pollution-causing economic model.
To create better-balanced, sustainable development, the government of Beijing is committed to further developing the city's suburban areas, such as the districts of Daxing, Pinggu and Changping, and counties such as Miyun and Huairou. To facilitate the transportation of passengers and freight, a circular line will be built to connect the outlying areas with the capital's new airport－Beijing Daxing International Airport, currently under construction－and adjacent cities in Hebei.
In addition to the Beijing-Tangshan link, work will begin on two further lines at the end of the year to connect Beijing with Bazhou in Hebei and Binhai in Tianjin. With trains designed to run at speeds of 350 km/h, journey times will be cut to 30 minutes, station to station.
Although the project has attracted much public attention, many people are waiting to see the effect the new lines will have. Liang Aili, a 32-year-old software engineer in Beijing, said he expects the journey from the capital to his home in Qian'an, a county-level city administered by Tangshan, to become more convenient.
"I can't predict the influence of the new lines, but they will certainly give people the option of easier travel," he said.
The rail project will have a positive impact on local economies too, especially in terms of employment and consumption of resources. About 600 workers will be required to build each kilometer of track, according to Ji Jialun, secretary-general of the Transportation Department of the China Railway Society.
He said at least 400,000 temporary workers will be required to build all the lines, but at present it's difficult to estimate the number of permanent staff members that will be required at each station. Ji's estimate was more conservative than one provided by the China No 3 Railway Survey and Design Group, which predicted the creation of 1.1 million temporary and permanent jobs by 2050.
Ji, who is also a railway expert at the Beijing Jiaotong University, said the project will stimulate economic growth because the construction process will consume large volumes of commodities, such as steel, iron, wood and concrete.
The China No 3 Railway Survey and Design Group said 2 metric tons of concrete and 0.32 tons of steel will be used for every 10,000 yuan invested in the project, and calculated that 38.64 million tons of concrete and 6.18 million tons of steel will have been used by 2020.
The extended network will boost the consumption of commodities until about 2050, which should help to ease the overcapacity in China's iron and steel and concrete industries, and also help to promote the development of sectors such as agriculture, forestry, tourism and mining by providing easier access to convenient shipping services. "Amid the slowdown of the Chinese economy, infrastructure investment will promote economic growth by increasing consumption and job opportunities," Ji said.